“There’s a huge story to be told,” says Anthony Lappé, “about the actual extent of the U.S. government’s involvement in drug trafficking.”
And that’s exactly the story Lappé and his co-producers Julian Hobbs and Elli Hakami tell in a mesmerizing four-part series that debuted this week on cable TV’s History Channel. Through dramatic recreations and in-depth interviews with academic researchers, historians, journalists, former federal agents, and drug dealers, America’s War on Drugs (watch full episodes online here) tells true tales of how, for instance, the CIA and Department of Defense helped to introduce LSD to Americans in the 1950s.
“The CIA literally sent over two guys to Sandoz Laboratories where LSD had first been synthesized and bought up the world’s supply of LSD and brought it back,” Lappé tells Nick Gillespie in a wide-ranging conversation about the longest war the U.S. government has fought. “With that supply they began a [secret mind-control] program called MK Ultra which had all sorts of other drugs involved.”
The different episodes cover the history of drug prohibition, the rise of the ’60s drug counterculture; heroin epidemics past and present; how drug policy has warped U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia, Central America, Afghanistan, and beyond; the bipartisan politics of prohibition; and much more. America’s War on Drugs features exclusive and rarely seen footage and documents how, time and time again, the government was often facilitating trade and use in the very drugs it was trying to stamp out. The show’s website adds articles, short videos, and more information in an attempt to produce an “immersive experience” that will change how viewers think and feel about prohibition.
Lappé, who has worked at Vice, Huffington Post, and elsewhere, tells Gillespie that he is particulary excited to see his series air on the History Channel because it’s an indicator the drug-policy reform is in the air. Though not a libertarian himself, he says “a great trait of libertarianism…is that knowledge and reason will eventually win out over keeping things in the dark, making things taboo.” Even when it veers off into questionable territory (such as the role of the government in creating the crack epidemic of the 1980s), America’s War on Drugs performs the invaluable function of furthering a conversation about drug policies and attitudes that have caused far more harm than they have alleviated.